The story of Valle Catholic High School football may be best summarized by Joseph Hoog, a fan going back to the 1940s. He recalls a state championship game in which quarterback and future coach Judd Naeger tucked the ball and ran.
“Somewhere around midfield he broke into the open, and there was a defender. I suppose Judd could have gone around him,” Hoog said. “But he ran over him, that little safety, and went into the end zone. Running the football is what made Valle today.”
Certainly, the Warriors’ rumbling through the decades has created one of the state’s most dominate programs, and the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame is proud to induct Valle Catholic Football with the Class of 2016.
The induction is part of the Enshrinement in Cape Girardeau, set for a noon reception and 1 p.m. luncheon and ceremony on Sunday, November 6. (See ticket information below.)
Valle Catholic, based in Ste. Genevieve, first fielded a football team in 1928, and the Warriors have become one of the state’s biggest powerhouses over the past 30 years.
The program’s record is 556-296-5 through September 2016, including 141-26 under Naeger. Just as impressive, the Warriors hold the state record for most state championships (14) and recently held the nation’s longest winning streak at 51 games before suffering a setback Oct. 1, 2016 but not just against anyone. It was against Lamar, which has won five consecutive Class 2 state championships.
Overall, Valle Catholic has won 13 state championships outright, and shared another, with its first three titles earned in Class 2 while the rest have been played in Class 1. Valle’s first state title, in 1981, was shared after a scoreless tie against St. Pius X of Kansas City.
The Warriors then won it all in 1982, 1983, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1995, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015. The program also was a state runner-up three times – 1993, 2009 and 2012.
Eight of its state championship teams went undefeated, and only three of its state championship wins have been decided by a touchdown or less – 14-7 against Seneca in 1983, 28-24 against Tarkio in 1991 and 22-21 against Westran in 2010.
The success has roots back to the 1950s. The 1958 team went undefeated.
One of the key architects was coach Mark Benson, who mentored under Ralph Thomure and took over in 1978. The program had enjoyed a 10-win season in 1965, outscored opponents 535-0 in 10 games in 1966 and had several other eight-win seasons in the late 1960s under Thomure’s watch.
Benson took it to another level. He immediately instituted a weightlifting program that transformed the program, and coached the team to its first two state championships.
“Our weightlifting program is the single-biggest neutralizer we have that enables us to compete against larger schools,” Benson was quoted as saying in the book “Exciting High School Football … A Valle Tradition” and added this: “Our kids don’t just work hard during football season but all year around.”
Rick Suarez coached the 1983 team, Bob Weiler was the coach of the team’s fourth state championship and John Bacon the coach of the team’s fifth through ninth state titles. Naeger has coached the past five state title teams.
“As coaches, we know we are are riding on the shoulders of giants,” Naeger said. “As a coaching staff, it’s been a long line of guys who learned from the guy before them.”
Valle Catholic football is the family ties as well as dedicated fans like Hoog who have thrown their support to the program.
Sons whose fathers or grandfathers played for Valle have carried on the tradition in this quaint community that sits near the banks of the Mississippi River. Even better, many of those former players haven’t hesitated to give back in many different ways.
In the 2000s, $1.3 million was raised through private funds for what became one of the most spectacular high school fieldhouses in the state. It is a two-story structure complete with locker rooms for both teams, a trophy room, coaches’ offices, public restrooms and a second-level press box.
With the river to the east and rolling farmland all around, it’s one of the most unique settings in high school sports.
It’s no wonder, then, that high school boys want to play for Valle Catholic, whose program teaches them life lessons.
“We think high school football is the greatest sport around,” Naeger said. “The best thing about it is that you are going to have to experience adversity physically and mentally, and you’re going to have to get outside your comfort zone. There are so many lessons to be learned, so many ways to grow.”
Enshrinement in Cape Girardeau
What: Missouri Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2016
When: Noon reception & 1 p.m. luncheon & ceremony on Sunday, Nov. 6
Where: The Show Me Center, Cape Girardeau
Missouri Sports Legend: Three Rivers Community College basketball coach Gene Bess
Inductees: Blake Dewitt (Sikeston/Dodgers/Cubs/Braves), James Wilder (Sikeston/Mizzou/Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Mark Littell (Gideon/Royals/Cardinals), Eddie Moss (Poplar Bluff/Southeast Missouri State/St. Louis Football Cardinals), Dr. Rick Wright (Sikeston/Mizzou/St. Louis Blues), track standout Miles Smith (St. Louis/Southeast Missouri State), high school basketball coach Lennies McFerren (Charleston/New Madrid), softball coach Lana Richmond (Southeast Missouri State), soccer/basketball coach Brad Wittenborn (Notre Dame High School), high school football coach Bob Stolzer (Ste. Genevieve), Capahas semi-pro baseball program (Cape Girardeau), the Scott County Central High School boys and girls basketball programs (Sikeston), the Valle Catholic High School football program (St. Genevieve), and the 1979 and 1992 Three Rivers Community College men’s basketball teams (Poplar Bluff) that won NJCAA national championships.
President’s Award: Poplar Bluff attorney Joe Scott, a former Gainesville/Mizzou basketball standout
Tickets: Call 417-889-3100. An individual ticket is $125. A table of eight is $1,250 and includes autographed print of Coach Bess, an autographed print of the induction class as well as sponsorship recognition at the table and in the printed program. Numerous sponsorships are available, too, such as congratulatory ads.